Jury acquits Cabrera of drug charges
Law enforcement informant was charged with possession and conspiring to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute
By RHODA A. PICKETT
A federal jury Friday acquitted Jose Ricardo Cabrera of charges that he had been involved in drug trafficking even as he worked as an informant assisting south Florida law enforcement in the war on drugs.
Cabrera had been charged with one count each of possession and conspiring to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute. The jury deliberated for most of Friday morning before returning to Chief District Judge Charles R. Butler Jr.'s courtroom around 1:30 p.m. with a verdict acquitting Cabrera on both counts.
Defense attorney Fred Helmsing Sr. of Mobile smiled as the verdict was read. "This proves again the validity of our jury system," Helmsing said. We are grateful and appreciate very much the not guilty verdict."
Federal prosecutor Gloria Bedwell declined to comment on the verdict, saying only that prosecutors believed they had what was needed to garner a conviction.
"We thought the evidence was sufficient to support" a conviction, Bedwell said. "But we have to respect the jury's verdict."
A handful of Cabrera's family members who had traveled from Florida waited in the courtroom and in the hall outside as the jury deliberated.
The case involved a quarter-ton shipment of cocaine that undercover Customs agents had brought up Mobile Bay in 1999. The undercover agents had a rendezvous with a larger boat in the Gulf of Mexico to take on the drugs, then sped back north up the Bay to dock near the Brookley Industrial Complex, according to testimony this week.
But the operation was actually part of a Customs Service sting operation, according to testimony.
Of that load of cocaine, 37 kilograms were to sent to Miami as a commission for the Colombian who brokered the deal. Prosecutors said that Cabrera was acting on the broker's behalf.
With the help of another federal informant, agents arranged a meeting for the exchange of the 37 kilos so they could catch their main target -- Cabrera -- but he was able to avoid capture. Cabrera was later arrested and eventually charged.
Helmsing had told jurors that his client was an informant for the South Broward Drug Enforcement Unit, a multi-agency task force that included the Customs Service. Helmsing contended during the trial that every move his client made was with the permission of some law enforcement agency.
Prosecutors countered that even if Cabrera was an informant, he had skirted the necessary procedures required of all snitches and should be punished for it.
Cabrera's arrest had been one of 43 to date in a continuing Customs operation targeting Colombian cocaine importers. Since starting the operation in 1997, agents say they have seized about $7.5 million in cash and assets and more than 500 kilos of cocaine and heroin.
WEBMASTER NOTE: Arthur Madden was co-counsel on this case.
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